Physique Wise Dieting Priorities Part I: Adherence & Energy Balance

The pyramid displayed above (courtesy of Eric Helms) shows the priorities of dieting. Whether wanting to put on muscle mass or lose body fat, the priorities remain the same and in that order. 

Over the coming weeks I will be taking you through each step of the pyramid so that you have a fundamental understanding of what is required to change your body composition (increase muscle, drop body fat etc.). 

So this week our attention turns to the very fundamentals that form the cornerstone of any attempt to alter body composition…. Adherence and energy balance.

What is the best diet for Fat loss?

You may be thinking Paleo, low carb, ketogenic, 5:2, intermittent fasting….. and you would all be wrong!

The best diet for fat loss is simply the one you can stick to! Without consistent and long-term adherence to the plan, little to no progress will be made, regardless of how ‘good’ the plan is.

What is Adherence?

“Attachment or commitment to a person, cause or belief” - In this case a commitment to your training and nutrition plan.

What is a Calorie? 

A calorie is simply a way of measuring energy and is defined as “the amount of energy required to raise the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree celcius at the pressure of one atmosphere”. All food contains energy, and the calorie content is simply a way of measuring how much energy there is in food. 

All food contains energy of varying amounts, measured in calories

All food contains energy of varying amounts, measured in calories

What is Energy Balance?

Energy Balance describes the difference between energy coming in to the body in the form of food (calories) and energy being burned by the body. Energy is burned by the body in 3 main ways: -

  1. Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR): The energy required to sustain bodily process and organs. Accounts for around 60-70% of total energy expenditure.
  2. Thermic Effect of Food (TEF): Relates to the increased energy expenditure associated with the digestion, absorption and storage of food and accounts for between 10-25% of total daily energy expenditure. Protein is the most energy costly macronutrient to process, followed by carbohydrates, then fat.
  3. Exercise Activity: Can be divided into structured exercise, such as your training sessions, and Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT). Any movement in the body outside of planned and structured exercise. can include fidgeting, getting up from your desk to get a drink, walking up stairs etc.

What Lifestyle Factors Affect Energy Balance?

1. Sleep: The negative effects of sleep deprivation are huge, and include: -

  • Increased appetite
  • Decreased testosterone production
  • Increased cortisol secretion
  • Poorer nutrient partitioning 
  • Increased insulin resistance
  • Decreased well-being
  • Decreased cognitive functioning 
Sleeping like a baby every night will dramatically improve health and well-being 

Sleeping like a baby every night will dramatically improve health and well-being 

2. Stress: Chronically elevated cortisol (your main stress hormone) is extremely bad, not just for changing your body composition but for health and well being. In short, cortisol can interact with other hormones to impair fat loss and make muscle gain far more difficult. Chronic stress will also increase your appetite. 

3. Activity Levels - increases energy expenditure

4. Work (stress)

5. Relationships (stress) - Do those around you help or hinder you?


What are the Best Tactics in Succeeding in the Long-Term?

  • Set Goals, review them often.
  • Set Both Outcome and Behaviour Goals - outcome goals are the ‘destination’, behaviour goals are the road map. See this article for more info on goal setting:
  • Measure and Assess - “What gets measured gets managed”, “if you’re not assessing you’re guessing”
  • Adopt a growth mindset (Carol Dweck) and operate under an internal locus of control. An internal locus of control means you operate under the belief that you have the ability to control your environment. Tons of psychological research has shown that those with an internal locus of control are more successful at achieving their goals.
  • Calorie Cycle - Don’t stay in a constant deficit for longer than 12 weeks without some form of diet break or re-feed
  • Don’t use food as a reward: Using food as a reward teaches you to consume that food when experiencing emotional stress.
  • Try to prepare food in advance - don’t rely on willpower!